Does the school make the student or does the student make the school?
That’s the classic question in academia. Do a school’s resources and culture elevate the student body – or do students increase an institution’s brand value with their credentials and intellectual horsepower? This question certainly resonates at Harvard Business School, a program that routinely rejects students with 770 GMATs. That’s because HBS caters to a very exclusive clientele. Here, demand far exceeds supply, with just 12% of applicants accepted into the program.
Of course, HBS is an easy sell. After all, 9 of every 10 accepted applicants end up there. Once students arrive at Harvard Business School, they rank among elite company. Known as the West Point of Capitalism, HBS grads reads like a Who’s Who of 21st Century business royalty: Jaime Dimon, Sheryl Sandberg, Steve Schwarzman, Salman Khan, Leon Black, and Michael Bloomberg. On top of that, HBS boasts 64 billionaire alumni members – nearly three times the number at Stanford GSB. No wonder HBS enjoys a $4 billion dollar endowment – or double the size of the one for the entire University of California-Berkeley.
ACCESS, INFLUENCE, AND REACH
What’s the allure of Harvard Business School? Think the best of everything. The larger university is a hub of innovation of creativity, which means everyone – from every corner – comes here. It attracts the top teachers and researchers to the faculty and the best leaders and employers as guests. The prestige ensures attention and the size produces scale…with the world-class facilities and talent adding possibilities and synergies.
More than that, HBS is a proving ground. Every day, students are learning from the best. After all, a quarter of HBS students traditionally matriculate from the Ivy League or Stanford – and 1 in 5 have already notched stints in the MBB. In this environment, MBAs are surrounded by peers who have spent their lives notching high scores, collecting imposing accolades, and shouldering heavy responsibilities – and that know-how and spirit rubs off. Not only do HBS MBAs learn the proverbial language of business, but also its cultural and industry nuances from a mix of diverse classmates.
To some, a Harvard MBA can be boiled down to access, influence, and reach. It is the ticket to the good life. Lack expertise? That’s easy to find among 900 classmates (and nearly 50,000 alumni). Looking to move into the c-suite? The degree is synonymous with credibility, be it intellect, leadership, or discipline. In the end, there is no chicken-or-egg argument. HBS is special because of a combination of student, heritage, and programming. At its core, the HBS experience involves more than mastering fundamentals and boosting your LinkedIn connections. It is a transformational two years – a time when students learn how to evaluate, synthesize, frame, communicate, and listen. That can only be achieved through a carefully-curated methodology –and a unique student.
That’s what you’ll find in the Class of 2022 – a certain mindset that is sometimes hard to pin down. Entering business school, Camilla Mia Carag struggled with imposter syndrome. On one level, she felt intimidated by her peers’ accomplishments. On top of that, she worried that her non-traditional background – an industrial engineer who once starred in a TV show on marine conservation – wouldn’t translate to a class full of consultants, entrepreneurs, and financiers. Turns out, she shared something more fundamental with her classmates – a differentiator that has united MBAs for over a century…
“As I got to know my classmates better, I realized that what makes the HBS community special is that it brings together individuals who, beyond their stellar resumes, have an earnest desire to learn more about themselves, their peers, and the kind of impact they could make in the world,” Carag explains. “It’s been energizing to be surrounded by people who have such sincere growth mindsets.”
HBS MBAs come from all walks of life, says Tim Backstrom, himself a Swedish Fintech entrepreneur. Early on, he has interacted with a “former officer at a nuclear submarine, an engineer who designed golf clubs, someone who worked on an oil rig in Africa, and another who did sports statistics for a major baseball team.” The result, he adds, is that students share a classroom with 70-90 peers with an array of backgrounds found nowhere else. That has made the learning experience truly enriching thus far for Toyin Shodiya, a chief project engineer at Boeing.
“It feels like everyone has something they are deeply passionate about and the abundance of resources here makes it completely possible to bring those ideas to life. On any given day, I can leave a conversation with insights on new tech in the food and beverage industry, investments being made in Latin American ventures, or accessible healthcare delivery solutions. The ideas being developed here at HBS are truly endless.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Of course, 2020 hasn’t made this process easy. That’s why class members took it upon themselves to build community in the wake of COVID restrictions. Before classes opened, for example, students organized a product management Q&A, mentorship chat, and virtual wine tasting over Slack according to Olivia Melendez, an industrial engineer who became a portfolio manager. Charlotte Lawson – an ER doctor who once delivered a baby in a car – adds activities like online book clubs, poker games, and happy hours to the list. For her, it wasn’t her classmates’ resourcefulness that made an impression. Instead, it was the sense of togetherness that these activities represented amid an uncertain time.
“The 720 of us in the “COVID Class” of 2022 all chose to matriculate despite a universal option to defer,” Lawson explains. “In doing so, we signaled to each other: I believe this can still be a great year. I think that team spirit and hopeful outlook has been crucial to getting us off on the right foot and will continue to be something we lean on throughout the next two years.”
Just don’t expect the Class of 2022 to get too comfortable, adds Richard Pettey, who comes to Boston after a stint in the U.S. Department of Education. After all, what got the Class of 2022 – ambition, courage, passion – is exactly what is going to sustain their momentum through the next two years – and beyond.
“The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world” Pettey explains. “The reality is that many of my classmates have already made a difference in the world. But despite their accomplishments—for example, designing and flying rockets that further our understanding of the universe, fighting the Coronavirus pandemic on the medical front lines, and defending our country in the military—no one seems to be complacent or comfortable. Instead, they are tenacious and humble. They will go on to do more because they are ambitious in their pursuit to make a difference in the world.”
FIGHTING COVID ON THE FRONT LINE
One first-year who has already made a difference is Peter James Kiernan. In the military, he was the youngest Marine Raider – a unit known as an “elite force within an elite force” of special operations. Kiernan later transitioned to public service, working in the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Here, he served as the deputy director for response operations for New York’s COVID-19 Task Force – a role where he was responsible for the state’s “testing, supply distribution, and enforcement operations” last spring.
“Serving at the highest levels of State government, especially during a global crisis, has shown how essential public and private partnerships are,” he writes. “I want to learn the language necessary to effectively communicate between governments and corporations, to continue to build coalitions and take on global challenges.”
Five years ago, Richard Pettey co-founded the first charter school – Reimagine Prep – in Mississippi. Under his stewardship, enrollment has swelled to 500 students in grades 5-8. At the same time, the school has emerged as the high-scoring open-enrollment middle school in Jackson, Mississippi. This spring, Pettey was able to watch his first-class graduate from 8th grade. The moment represented a career coming full circle to his first class in 2013. Back then, he was “Mr. Pettey” to 150 students – “none of whom looked like me and most of whom lived below the poverty line.” For Pettey, these experiences were the perfect way to get ready for the rigors of business school.
“I learned how to lead a team effectively, how to cast a vision and work to achieve it in the face of challenges, and how to find common ground with a diverse body of folks and get to yes when it seemed unlikely. It taught me the importance of motivation, persuasion, influence, and sweating the small stuff when leading and working with others. More than anything, though, teaching taught me that relationships are paramount to driving impact and manifesting change.”
GOING FROM ONE TO A HUNDRED
In the Philippines, Camilla Mia Carag found a way to balance doing good with doing well. At Growsari, a retail channel, she leveraged her experience from Uber and Procter & Gamble, creating data analytics tools that enabled FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies to bypass middle markets and sell their goods directly to sari-sari stores (family-run convenience stores). The result, she says, were higher sales and lower costs that benefited the people who needed relief the most.
“It was very meaningful for me to see how my efforts influenced the lives of people I had collaborated with across the industry. I witnessed leaders at FMCGs reimagine their route to market and restructure their teams. I saw field sales teams finally have access to the conveniences of real-time data and targeted promotions. Most importantly, I saw elated sari-sari store owners bring themselves and their families up as they got the best prices and deals instead of being squeezed by the middle-man for every peso.”
What brings Carag to HBS? “Having spent the last 4 years working at startups, I learned a lot about what it takes to get companies from zero to one,” she tells P&Q. “At this stage of my career, I’m looking to learn the other half of that equation, which is one to a hundred. How do you scale companies for long-term sustainability and greatness? I felt that pursuing an MBA would be the perfect way to get that kind of business knowledge in an accelerated timeframe.”
Go to Page 3 to read 9 profiles of Harvard Business School first-years.
Go to Page 2 for an exclusive interview with Chad Losee, Managing Director for MBA Admissions and Financial Aid